What Is Civility?

What is civility?

Washington Post article offers a startling statistic: 71% of employees are looking for new jobs.

The main reason for their job dissatisfaction is employees don’t feel appreciated on the job in two basic way, recognition and compensation.

The key word, here is, I think, “appreciated”.

Christine Porath, in Mastering Civility: A Manifesto For The Workplace, tells us how incivility has wrecked the workplace, impacting productivity, focus and stress levels.

Porath’s definition of civility boils down to this simple idea: treating others with kindness and respect.

Kindness and respect, I think, form the foundation of feeling appreciated.  When we are treated kindly with respect, feeling appreciated seems to follow.

What those 71% of employees who feel underappreciated, I believe, is to be treated with civility, to be treated with kindness and respect.

Defining Key Terms

Let’s take some time to define three key terms, as these ideas are ancient and time-honored.  In my experience looking at the historical roots of a word can help clarify a concept’s meaning and relevance for today.

The Meaning of Civility

Civility comes from the Latin word, civilis, which means citizen.  In early usage civility meant the state of being a citizen, a member, in good standing, of a city.

The words, civil, civility, citizen, city, civics, cite, citation, civilization, civilian, civilize and more, all have their roots in the word, civilis, citizen.

The Meaning of Kindness

Kind has several meanings:

  • Having a friendly or generous nature or attitude
  • Helpful to others
  • Considerate or humane.

Kind comes to us from the Old English word, gecynd.

The words, kind, kith and kin, all stem from this Old English word, gecynd.

The German word, Gesundheit, shares this same root word.  Also, the word for child in German is Kind, coming from this same root word 

We might say that the original meaning of being kind was treating people as we did our loving family and friends, our kith and kin.

The Meaning of Respect

Respect is defined as “the condition of being esteemed or honored”.

The word, respect, comes from the Latin, re+ spectare, to look at, again.

I look you in the eye. You look me in the eye.  And I look at you again.

We cannot expect respect.  We can only give respect.

When we make this essential connection with the eyes, we enter into the moment with an awareness of each other’s worth, a person worthy of being treated with kindness and respect.

Key Questions

In teaching civility there are key questions to address. 

  • How do we act as a member of a community, a place where people live, work and play together?
  • What rules do we live by?
  • What is our civic duty?
  • How can we be kind?
  • How can we give respect?

Treating others with kindness and respect forms the core of being civil, of being a good citizen, of being worthy to live in a community, a group of people working together to make life better for all.

This Week’s Challenge

  • Discuss with your school community members–students, staff, families–our key questions from above.
  • Take Christine Porath’s Incivility Test on Pages 51 to 53 in Mastering Civility or using her website questionnaire, Assess Yourself.  Invite and encourage others to do the same.

Access Your Civility

Suggested reading from Mastering Civility:

Part 1: The Stakes: The High Costs of Incivility and the Potential Gain of Civility, pages 9 – 46.

Join us in a free webinar Teaching Civility. Click here to sign up.

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